A Catechism on God’s Law (Part 19)

Based on Greg Bahnsen’s “By This Standard,” (1991).

Are there discontinuities between the Old and New Covenants? (Continued)

  1. The New Covenant brings greater responsibility for obedience:

With the giving of new light and new power in the New Covenant, the responsibility of men to obey the voice of God is increased. To whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48). God no longer overlooks any people’s disobedience but requires all men everywhere to repent because of his appointed Judge and Day (Acts 17:30-31). The revelation of the New Covenant is even more inescapable than that of the Old Covenant (Heb.12:25), and to it we should give “the more earnest heed” (Heb.2:1-4) (p.167-168).

  1. So, the Law is valid from every angle?

From the normative perspective the Bible teaches that the entire written word of God is our standard of conduct, that God’s covenantal dealings with men (inclusive of his stipulations for His people) are essentially one, that God’s unchanging holiness is transcribed for us in His law, that God’s Son set an example for us in keeping the law, and that God’s Spirit conforms believers to the pattern of righteousness found in the law.

From the personal or motivational perspective the Bible shows us that grace, faith and love all operate to produce compliance with the holy standard of God’s commandments.

From the teleological or consequential perspective the Bible explains that the law of the Lord was revealed for the good of His people, and thus a promised blessing rests upon individuals and societies which submit to God’s stipulations for their attitudes and actions.

The theological conclusion that God’s law continues to be a valid rule of life today enjoys the specific support of New Testament texts which bear on the subject as well. We have explored the way in which New Testament writers treat the legal requirements of the Old Testament, only to find that further endorsement is given to the law’s validity today. This has been observed in the use of the law found in the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, the assumed authority of the law in key New Testament ethical themes, and the application of the law incorporated into New Testament moral judgements.

Finally, an extensive comparison of what the Old Testament had to say about the law of God with corresponding concerns in the New Testament revealed that there was a common attitude toward the law and a presupposed continuity between the covenants as to God’s moral standards in the law, despite the fact that the New Covenant introduced important elements of discontinuity regarding the believer’s relationship to the law. In the age of the New Testament the old Covenant law of the Lord retains its binding authority.

So then, both theological insight and specific New Testament teaching agree in supporting the law of God as a standard of conduct. If a person wishes to please the Lord, then he must seek to bring his thoughts, words and deeds into conformity with the norms laid down in the law of God. Christian ethics is surely concerned with more than the law of God (for instance, it considers issues like ethical discernment, motivation, maturation, discernment, insight, application), but it cannot be concerned with less than the law of God, for the law supplies a pattern for godly living…

Accordingly, in 1774 John Newton, the theologian, hymn writer, and former slave ship owner turned abolitionist, wrote:

It is an unlawful use of the law, that is, an abuse of it, an abuse of both law and Gospel, to pretend, that its accomplishment by Christ releases believers from any obligation to it as a rule. Such an assertion is not only wicked, but absurd and impossible in the highest degree: for the law is founded in the relation between the Creator and the creature, and must unavoidably remain in force as long as that relation consists. While He is God, and we are creatures, in every possible or supposable change of state or circumstances, He must have an unrivalled claim to our reverence, love, trust, service and submission.[1] (p.169-172).




[1] “Letters of John Newton,” 1960, p.46.

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